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Anthony: Are you from Orlando?
Alejandro: I grew up like, I jumped from place to place. I was born in Mayagüez (Puerto Rico) then I moved over here. I was raised a lot between here and Altamonte Springs and here (Orlando.) Then I moved to Philly,...

Anthony: Are you from Orlando? 

Alejandro: I grew up like, I jumped from place to place. I was born in Mayagüez (Puerto Rico) then I moved over here. I was raised a lot between here and Altamonte Springs and here (Orlando.) Then I moved to Philly, Jersey, New York – shit like that. I just bounced around a lot. My mom considers herself a gypsy. So she never wanted to stay in one place. 

Anthony: Do you have any siblings? 

Alejandro: I have my older sister from my mom and then I had my two adopted brothers; their my primos and hermanos. They live with their father now. My sister is grown and I am the only one still with my mom. 

Anthony: How long have you been dancing at Parliament House? 

Alejandro: For like four months. I like it a lot. I like the atmosphere. It’s always turned up. Even if it’s dead there is always a few people here. It’s not as crazy as it used to be. I like Parliament house now it’s more calm its not a lot of people trying to fight and shit. 

Anthony: Which room is the best room to dance in? 

Alejandro: The best money is made in the middle room because that is where everyone is going in and out but I switch rooms. I like to dance to different kinds of music. Whenever it’s Latino night, I like being on my side because of the salsa and merengue. Anthony: How has the environment been here after Pulse? Alejandro: A lot people are scared to come out now and it sucks because when you let people like that change the way you love your life freely, they win. We as a people, we have to look out for each other. We all need to stop doing the bochinche, stop trying to be on some bullshit and some drama. We all need to stand together as a people especially everything we have been through growing up. Everyone is against us so why not stand together? 

Anthony: What is a lesson you have learned that you want other varones to know? 

Alejandro: Sometimes you may go through when you’re younger but don’t never let that change you. When I was growing up, I used to get jumped like five times a day. And I used to go home crying, “Mommy, I don’t understand why these people are going against me.” And now I understand that a lot of was – it wasn’t just because I was gay – it was the fact that I wasn’t proud of who I am You need to be proud of who you are and love yourself before you can expect anyone to accept you for who you are. At the end of the day, don’t no one’s opinion matters except the one above – and he doesn’t even judge me, he blesses me everyday. You could have as much faith as you want but work comes with it. I just cant sit here and pray to him every day and hope that he takes care of me, yes, you could put everything in his hands but you gotta work for what you want. 

Anthony: When did you learn this lesson? 

Alejandro: After my car accident, I was tired. It was in 2012, I was crossing the street and there was person trying to beat the red light and he ran me and friend over. I spent three months in the hospital. I didn’t have health insurance so I couldn’t go to physical therapy but I taught myself how to walk again. I forced myself to prove them wrong. They said that I was never gonna walk and look at me now – I’m shaking my ass for money. 

Alejandro, Orlando 

Interviewed by: Anthony Leon 

Photographed by: Louie A. Ortiz-Fonseca

thegranvarones granvarones boricua afroboricua afrolatino latinx puertorican gay queer storytelling photojournalism photography portrait oral history LGBTQ pulseorlando orlando strong orlandounited

It is my experience for many reasons to shut trauma out of my life. On June 12th, 49 people were murdered at Pulse Nightclub’s Latin Night, becoming America’s largest mass shooting in history. Many of the victims were Latino and gay. What had been a safe space was invaded and attacked. Many of the victims were Puerto Rican. They looked like me and my friend Vince. Naturally, I became angry and afraid. As I usually do, I subconsciously blocked those feelings and many more out of my mind. Shortly after, my best friend Louie said “let’s take a Gran Varón trip to Orlando.” I was hesitant yet ready.

We arrived on July 27th (day after my birthday). Over a period of three days we met up with several Varones that are part of the Orlando community. When asking questions for our interviews, I was present yet emotionally detached. Their stories of bravery, resiliency, and recovery were inspiring. Each story weighed heavily on me and yet I still couldn’t connect.

                                                                         Anthony interviewing Angel

That changed on our fourth day of the trip. The morning of July 30th we traveled to Kissimmee, Florida to meet up with Jorge. Louie had met Jorge online and shared with him that we were in the area capturing and archiving stories of Latino Gay men so that our narratives (as told by us) can be shared forever.  Jorge, who had been disconnected from the world, said that he indeed had a story and was ready to open up. We picked him up and what was originally supposed to be lunch turned into 24 hours. Because of our interview schedule we had to quickly leave Kissimmee after lunch and travel to Orlando to do a few interviews. We always meet people where there are at and on their time. We keep to it. Jorge was down to tag along.

                                                                             Anthony interview Miguel

Jorge watched as we met up with two different Varones and gathered their interviews. He kept silent but you could tell he was processing the stories being told. After our second interview that day, I invited him to come back to our place for dinner. Again, he was down. We traveled the 30 minutes it took to get to a supermarket near the place we were staying. In that time, Louie separated with another to chat with another Varón in his car and I was with Jorge and Sean in our rental. We laughed from the heart as we told jokes, we shared the music that gets us through our roughest times (Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”), and told each other stories of our families. I felt a developing connection with him, one that wasn’t connected to tragedy.

                                                                              Anthony interviewing Chris

After dinner, it was time to interview Jorge. He shared details of his background and of how he came to accept his identity. I then asked why he agreed to give up a Saturday and tag along with strangers trekking across Central Florida. That’s when he shared that he was with us because the universe kept him from going to his friend’s birthday party at Pulse that night. One of his friends, Rodolfo, did go to the party. Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33, was one of the 49 victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. In that moment, I knew the story that would follow and I felt myself detaching. Jorge wouldn’t allow me to do that. He shared a joke to make me laugh and continued to share his friend’s story with courage I’ve never seen.

                                                                          Anthony interviewing Franqui

I was trying to hold space for him to share his story and instead he was holding space for me. His courage, his kindness, and his smile kept me present and in touch. Because of Jorge and the others we met in Florida, I was able to begin wrapping myself around the pain I’ve felt these last few months. The news won’t report on the strength of the survivors and those impacted. But all throughout the Orlando area, we met brave people that were pushing forward.

It tears at my mind and my heart that Jorge and I almost didn’t meet. The world tries every day to pin Latino Gay and Queer men from each other when it is through our love that we grow and thrive.

I am forever grateful for meeting Jorge and the other Varones.

- Anthony Leon

           Anthony & Jorge taking a selfie when they should have been eating

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so it has been a full week since we returned from our trip to Orlando. admittedly, we are still processing our experience but i will share some highlights.

during our time in Orlando we were able to forge a relationship with QLatinx. their hospitality not only provided healing but served as a foundation during our entire trip. many of the organizers hung out with us, invited us into their homes and into their lives. we were with familia during our entire time there and we are so grateful for our partnership.


one of the many highlights of our trip took place on Friday night. while dancing my ass off at Parliament House, i was introduced to franqui. even with the music blasting, we were able to engage in a conversation about our project. he stated that he once lived in philly and would be more than happy to share his story with us. so on Saturday afternoon, he invited us back to the club so we could interview and photograph him. chyle, when we walked up to the club, he was in a towel and said “yes, I am in towel and what!?” this when i knew his interview would be lit - and it was. his spirit was so welcoming and hsi attitude was so philly. he was yet another reminder of the resiliency and beauty that exists and continues to thrive in Orlando.


we interviewed a total of 8 varones while we were in Orlando. each and every story were both heartbreaking and inspiring. on our last night, we had an impromptu dinner at the house we were staying in. it was so last minute but each varòn pitched in to make it happen. the dinner provided an opportunity for varones to get to know each other and simply just be.

our work in not done. we will continue to work with Qlatinx and do whatever we can to be a part of the growing movement in Orlando. we will continue to share the stories of all varones who so courageously love, live and continue to dance after the pulse massacre.


thank you to chris, miguel, jean, edwin, angel, jorge, joel and franqui for sharing your stories with us. we are beyond humbled, moved and inspired.
thank you to joshua from target and made us feel at home by just being your beautiful femme self. we look forward to hanging out with you at length the next time we in Orlando.


thank you to everyone who donated and did all that they could to make our trip possible. we invite everyone, varones and allies to support latinx queer and trans initiatives in your perspective cities. many of us are doing this work with very little resources and support is needed. if you are not sure what initiatives are happening in your city, inbox us and we will try to support you in connecting with organizers.

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